10 Scotch whiskies to try on Burns Night

Burns Night always feels like a particularly well-timed celebration. Hot on the heels of ‘Blue Monday’ – supposedly the most miserable day of the year – it’s certainly nice to have a reason to get merry. It also happens to be the perfect refutation to those killjoys determined to make Dry January the new Lent.  ‘O thou, my muse! guid auld Scotch drink!’ So wrote Robert Burns in the winter of 1785 in his ode ‘Scotch Drink’. The Scottish bard’s love of the stuff is no surprise and no Burns Night celebration is complete without a few drams. Terroir matters – from peaty Islay to spicy Speyside malts; sweeter Highland to softer

A St Patrick’s Day guide to Irish whiskey

In the fifth century, Ireland suffered from a reptile dysfunction – it happens to the best of us. Pesky pagan snakes were everywhere, slippery anti-Christian evangelists making a nuisance of themselves, shedding their skin, swallowing hamsters whole and sticking their tongues out at everyone. But then the great Irish hero St Patrick came along. Except, Patrick, who had an Irish name (anglicized from Phádraig), was actually English. When he was 16, he was kidnapped and taken to Ireland as a slave, held there for six years before a brave escape back to England. Then, rather surprisingly given that ordeal, he decided to go back and preach Christianity. And now he’s

How to drink whisky

Aside from Icelandic whale testicle beer and Korean wine made from baby mice, there are probably few drinks which the observation ‘It’s an acquired taste’ is more applicable to than whisky. And with Burns night upon us, you can rest assured that there will be plenty of people who are already dreading the moment when the time comes to raise a glass in honour of Robert Burns, the 18th century ‘heaven-taught ploughman-poet’ whose birthday will be celebrated around the world on the night of January 25 with haggis, neeps – and, yes, whisky. Lots of whisky. As with oysters, cigars, cold water swimming and cryptocurrency, whisky is something which many

What to drink on Burns Night

The Burns Supper is not so much a dinner as it is a celebration of Scotland’s great contributions to poetry, distilling, and sausage making. Even though this year’s celebrations are set to be smaller scale than usual, the 25th of January still represents an opportunity to defy the winter gloom and raise a few glasses of guid auld Scotch drink. A dram or two, taken neat or with water, is traditional for toasting – but this is by no means the only way to enjoy your whisky on Burns night.  Scotch represents a broader range of styles and flavours than any other spirit and as such has enormous cocktail potential.

Two bottles to help eradicate cabin fever

The virus is in retreat, the lock-down is crumbling, the sherbet dispensaries will shortly reopen and there is a second spike of summer. Every prospect pleases, and only demonstrating man is vile. In London, we have been subjected to the most ridiculous public protests since the Gordon riots or the agitation in favour of Queen Caroline. During the latter follies, Wellington, riding back to Stratfield Saye, found his way blocked by a crowd of yokels who declared that they would not let him pass until he had toasted the Queen. ‘Very well, sirs, if you will have it so, God bless Queen Caroline and may all your wives be like

Drinking in isolation is far less appealing

Spring sense, caressing sunshine: last week, London enjoyed village cricket weather. Even in normal circumstances, the season would not have begun; the anticipation would. Soon, one would be watching the run-stealers flicker to and fro, a pint of beer at hand. ‘A pint of beer’, four simple words, but in these times my tastebuds were flooded with memory. Où sont les boissons d’antan? Friends of different strategems were fighting off that lowering virus, cabin-fever. I am re-reading Macaulay — there is no more joyous prose in English — and alternating him with Gibbon, whom I am ashamed to have never read all the way through, at a ratio of four

Which water goes best with whisky?

Peaty water ought to be classed as a luxury. You have spent a day on the hill, a’chasing the deer. This means coping with the rigours of topography, the cunning of the quarry and the vindictiveness of the elements, though that has its compensations. Rain keeps away the midges. You arrive back damp and knackered, but there is an instant restorative: a bathful of broiling peaty water, with a glass of peaty whisky as a chaser. Suddenly, all the day’s hardships are sublimated into pure pleasure (especially if you have killed a beast). Naturally, the water is brown. This can give rise to misunderstandings among the ignorant. A girl I

Sweet drams

‘What seas what shore what grey rocks what water lapping the bow’. So evocative, which seems strange: one would have assumed that Eliot would have been seasick crossing the Channel. Yet he understood the gentle little tides — and also the beauty and the fear, the other-worldliness, the implacable grandeur, of the great waters’ vast dominions. In these islands, throughout the centuries, men have earned their bread from the sea. But it was rarely an easy harvest. The ‘-Mingulay Boat Song’ captures the perils of the quest. ‘When the wind is wild with shouting/And the waves mount ever higher/ Anxious eyes turn ever seaward/ Wives are waiting, since break of

The true island spirit

Arran, in the Firth of Clyde, is an island whose charms vary with the seasons. In summer, the hills are verdant. By midwinter, there is a grandeur of rock and snow. These days, the attractions are enhanced by a better class of visitor. Time was, when it suffered from proximity to Glasgow, but the Gorbals-ites who want to start the morning with a cocktail of Buckfast and Irn-Bru now do so in Torremolinos. So: gentle sounds, sweet airs and a formidable amount of history. For centuries, Arran was on the front line in the constant warfare between Norsemen, Gaels, the lowland kings of Scotland and aristocratic factions. It is near

The world has gone whisky mad

Last September, Henry Jeffreys wrote in these very pages about the trend for rare whiskies and how – if you’re thinking about investing in alcohol – they might be a better bet than first-growth clarets. He told us of how whisky writer Ian Buxton ‘told me about visiting the Bowmore distillery on Islay in the 1990s and seeing bottles of Black Bowmore 30-year-old whisky gathering dust and priced at around £100 a bottle. One sold this year at auction for £11,450.’ ‘The world’, wrote Jeffreys, ‘has gone whisky mad’. So, bearing that in mind, it will come as little surprise to regular Spectator Money readers that a bottle of very

The best whisky distillery tours in Scotland

Speyside Speyside, north of Aberdeen, is the true heartland of whisky. From Cragganmore, with its complex blends and exclusive clubroom (think roaring fire and lots of antlers) for connoisseur whisky tastings, to Glenlivet, which sits in a remote glen and organises a variety of tours, from classic distillery poke-arounds to luxury samplings. Speyside is also home to Strathisla, which is the oldest working whisky distillery in Scotland (established in 1786) and, with its distinctive pagodas, may also be the most beautiful distillery in the country. The recent success story of the region is Copper Dog, a blended-malt created in 2016 at the beautiful 19th century Craigellaiche Hotel. It’s proved a

Our islands’ story

Britain has 6,000 islands. Not as many as Sweden’s 30,000 but quite enough to be going on with. Only 132 of ours are populated, on a scale that slides from the 85,000 people on the Isle of Man to tiny St Kilda, with its summertime population of just 15. Patrick Barkham is a skilled compiler of lists. His charming and successful first book, The Butterfly Isles, chronicled the sighting of every one of Britain’s 59 butterflies within a single summer. It is high up on my own list of ‘I wish I’d thought of that’ ideas. Clearly trying to gazetteer all Britain’s islands in a similar way might be indigestible,

Whisky galore | 20 October 2016

A long-standing friend of mine is a lucky fellow. He has spent his career doing exactly what he was born to do: befriending the human race. An inspired philanthropist, he has done more to help mankind than most aid agencies and NGOs put together. His name is Andrew Smith and he has devoted his career to selling whisky. Whisky and freedom gang the gither: whisky and all good things go together. Andrew spent many years working for Brown-Forman, an admirably well-run American family company. Family members who wish to join the firm have to possess two degrees and to have proved themselves working for another outfit. Brown-Forman is probably best

Whisky: A new star in the East to rival Scotch whisky

There’s a dirty Scottish secret. Nothing to do with the price of Brent crude, or who votes for Nicola: it’s that our global triumph, whisky, is now done rather brilliantly by others. Your reviewer is no bigot. I have gurgled and gargled Canadian, Swedish, Welsh and American whisky. These days, winter isn’t winter without Woodford Reserve. Even the English produce drinkable drams — drinkable, that is, for the curry-contaminated palates of chain-smoking Swindon estate agents. But the problem is specific. It’s Japanese. They came, they pottered around our distilleries, they chewed and they spat. A few decades on, serious international blind tastings give them the prize. So purely in the

Not all single malts from Islay are for peat freaks

Even in the driving rain, the Isle of Islay is a heart-stoppingly beautiful spot. High in the hills behind the Bruichladdich distillery, there are sweeping views east across Loch Indaal, and I fancied I could just about pinpoint Bowmore distillery across the foaming grey waters. The wind was gusting, the sheep were bleating, the geese were honking: it was wild, magnificent and dramatic. The lure of Bruichladdich was too strong, however, and moments later I was in the warmth of the distillery shop itself, getting a dram of the Laddie Valinch, a limited edition release available only in the shop. The 22-year-old, matured in a former bourbon cask for 18

Spectator letters: Press regulation, heroic Bulgarians and the case for Scotch on the rocks

Beyond the law Sir: In your leading article of 28 June you make the point that the hacking trial demonstrates why political oversight of press regulation, not press regulation by politicians, would be an unnecessary ‘draconian step’ because ‘hacking is already against the law’. Later you compare the illegal but honourable behaviour of Andy Coulson with that of Damian McBride, who ‘broke no law but behaved criminally’. In doing so you weaken the earlier argument. Regulation of the press should not solely be focused on illegal activity; rather it is to ensure that the press does not behave in a way analogous to that you criticise McBride for. In the

Spectator letters: VAT and sugar, Boris Johnson and cricket, whisky and bagpipes

Sugar added tax Sir: Julia Pickles (Letters, 14 June) suggests a sugar tax to combat the obesity epidemic and discourage food manufacturers from adding sugar to everything from bread to baked beans. A more realistic alternative might be to simply adjust the VAT rules: currently, VAT is levied on essentials such as loo paper, toothpaste and washing powder, presumably because they’re considered luxuries. Items such as breakfast cereals, however, are VAT-exempt, even though many are more than 30 per cent sugar and should really be in the confectionery aisles. Levying VAT on products with, say, more than 20 per cent added sugar and removing it from others could form a

Spectator letters: Islamophobia, breast-feeding and Bach

Rational fear Sir: An interesting contrast between the articles by Douglas Murray and Innes Bowen on Islamic influence in the UK (‘Save the children’, 14 June), and the one by Matthew Parris. Mr Parris sees no essential difference between faith schools. But Christians do not on the whole advocate holy wars against non-Christians, or demand that adulterous women be stoned to death, or that anyone who insults their religion should be beheaded. True, there was a time when the Church might have done all these things, but that was hundreds of years in the past and we are now more enlightened. Recent events in Syria and Nigeria, and now in

Spectator letters: The trouble with religion, alternatives to HS2, and whisky-drinking dogs

A history of persecution Sir: Colin Brown (Letters, 7 June) ignores some good reasons for keeping religion out of society. Small groups of believers are fine, but not totalitarian dictatorships. The early Christians were treated as heretics until 313 ad, when Constantine made what became the Roman Catholic Church the official religion of the Roman Empire. The church promptly started persecuting all other religious groups. In the Middle Ages the Church let loose the Inquisition and decimated civilised communities such as the Albigensians. As for his statement that ‘all religions have provided society with ethical and moral rules’, how ethical were the laws and morals that subjugated women and slaves

Peter McKay’s diary: Is Kate and William’s Scottish trip a pro-union initiative?

Having dampened local republican ardour during their recent tour of New Zealand and Australia, the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge visit thinking-about-breaking-away Scotland next week. They’ll tour Glenturret Distillery near Crieff, Perthshire, next Thursday, to ‘bottle their own Glenturret whisky’, if you please. Sounds like a pro-union royal initiative, but what will First Minister Alex Salmond have to say? He claims he’d like the Queen to continue as Scotland’s head of state, although some of his supporters disagree. When HM said in her letter to the Church of Scotland’s General Assembly last week that she prays everyone ‘will work together for the social good of Scotland’, whatever the outcome of